Champions Cup: Six South African players to watch this season including exciting playmakers and an enforcer

Champions Cup SA players to watch image 2022.jpg Credit: Alamy
Champions Cup SA players to watch image 2022.jpg Credit: Alamy

Ahead of the start of the Champions Cup, Planet Rugby picks out six South African players who we think could make an impression this season.

The biggest club competition in the sport starts on Friday and features some of the best in the game, including plenty of exciting players from the three South African clubs, who are participating in the competition for the first time this season.

Included on our list is a seasoned Springbok and some up-and-coming talents, so without further ado, let’s delve into who are the names to look out for.

Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls)

Arendse comes into this year’s Champions Cup as one of the most talked about players in the competition as he is a genuine excitement machine who can change the course of a match with his brilliant attacking skill set. The 26-year-old was one of South Africa’s stars during their recent international campaign where he became only the third Springbok to score seven tries in seven Tests, joining illustrious company in former Bok backline stars Danie Gerber and Chester Williams.

Arendse, who initially made his mark for the Biltzboks on the World Rugby Sevens circuit, will be determined to build on those Test performances as the men from Pretoria are a side, who, despite a dominant pack of forwards, have some outstanding attacking threats in their backline of which Arendse is arguably the best. He shone on the wing for the Boks but it is at full-back where he is utilised by the Bulls and he should give his side much-needed momentum from the back.

Ruan Nortje (Bulls)

If the Bulls want to make an impact in this Champions Cup, much will depend on the efforts of their forwards and Nortje will be leading the charge up front after being appointed as the Pretoria-based outfit’s captain earlier this season. The 24-year-old has had a rapid rise to the top and was one of the Bulls’ stars during their run to the 2021/22 United Rugby Championship (URC) final, which they lost to the Stormers.

Nortje’s undoubted strength is his prowess in the lineouts which is amongst the best in the business, while he also gets through plenty of work as a ball carrier and on defence for the Bulls. Those characteristics earned him a spot in the URC Dream Team of the 2021/22 season and a deserved call-up to the Springbok squad. Despite making just one Test appearance, Nortje is highly rated in South Africa and will be keen to kick on in the Champions Cup.

Eben Etzebeth (Sharks)

The behemoth second-row needs no introduction as he has been at the forefront of the Springboks’ forward onslaught for the past decade and has also been one of the world’s best second-rows during that period. Although he thrives being an enforcer, the 31-year-old is an athletic specimen with several other strings to his bow. Etzebeth is no stranger to European competition as he spent two seasons at Top 14 outfit Toulon but was allowed to leave his contract early to join to the Sharks.

An outstanding lineout operator, and also impressive the execution of his other core duties, there is no doubt that his presence in Sharks pack will significantly improve them in that department. Towards the end of his Toulon stint, he received criticism from the club’s president, Bernard Lemaître, after he battled concussion and a serious calf injury but he finished his stint at the French club with some strong performances in their run to the Challenge Cup final and will be keen to replicate that form in Europe’s premier cup competition this season.

Curwin Bosch (Sharks)

The 25-year-old will be highly motivated to do well in the Champions Cup as he suffered a hand injury which resulted in him spending most of the early part of the 2022/23 season on the sidelines. Prior to that injury, Bosch failed to fire on all cylinders for the Durban-based side during their 2021/22 URC campaign as they were knocked out by the Bulls in the quarter-finals of that tournament.

When on song, the fly-half is a brilliant playmaker and an accurate goal-kicker but he is yet to fulfil the promise he showed when bursting onto the scene as a 20-year-old in 2017. His impressive showings that year saw him making two appearances for his country at Test level but a dip in form meant he is yet to reach those heights again. After recovering from his recent injury, Bosch delivered a man-of-the-match performance in the URC clash against the Ospreys and he will be keen to continue in that vein in the Champions Cup.

Evan Roos (Stormers)

Although he is currently spending time on the sidelines, due to a broken rib sustained while on duty for the Springboks in their recent Autumn Nations Series Tests against England, there is no doubt that Roos is a vital cog in the Stormers machine. The 22-year-old will be champing at the bit to be involved in his side’s Champions Cup campaign and is set to play a leading role for them later on in the tournament.

Roos is one of rising stars in the game and his elevation to the Springbok side has not been surprising as he delivered numerous outstanding performances at number eight for the Stormers during their triumphant 2021/22 season. A strong ball carrier, with the ability to beat defenders with ease, Roos’ excellence with ball in hand saw him winning several individual awards during that victorious URC campaign, including the coveted Player of the Year gong. He will be hoping to make a similar impact in the Champions Cup.

Manie Libbok (Stormers)

After spending the early part of his career playing mostly as a back-up fly-half at the Bulls and Sharks, Libbok made the move to the Stormers ahead of the 2021/22 season – a switch which has certainly proved to be beneficial for him. The 25-year-old was one of the men from the Cape’s star performers as they won the inaugural URC competition and his impressive form also saw him making his Test debut for the Springboks during their recent European tour.

Libbok possesses an astute rugby brain, has an outstanding skill-set and lots of pace which have all come in handy for the Boks, and the Stormers during this year’s URC campaign. Blessed with plenty of confidence and the ability to bring out the best in his team-mates, Libbok can also unlock the tightest defences a challenge which he will face on a regular basis in the Champions Cup.

READ MORE: Champions Cup: Seven players to watch this season including the world’s best, a former All Black and Italy’s rising star

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